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I am thrilled to announce that my longtime boyfriend, Chris, and I are finally getting married! After eight years together, this milestone may appear to be a bit overdue, but I'm excited all the same.

We have survived two years long distance, two separate career changes (both my own),  five moves in three cities and two states,  a masters and a doctorate degree, my first years as a high school teacher (when I rarely emerged from my work), buying our first home together, and all of the small and big moments in-between.

There are two types of marriages: cornerstone and capstone. A cornerstone marriage is one in which the marriage is the starting point, and together a life is created from that point on. A capstone marriage is one in which the marriage is the "capstone," or icing on top, to celebrate a life that has already been built together.

Our engagement story differs from most—less romance, more practicality. We have both felt married for so long already that the actual ceremony feels more like a formality. I suppose you could say we fall firmly into the "capstone" marriage model. 

Sitting on the couch after dinner on a weeknight, the topic of marriage arose.

We should probably get married, shouldn't we?

Yeah, I think we should. But when?

From there, a wedding date was set for two months later, and the rest of the planning very quickly fell into place.

We are having a private outdoor ceremony in our favorite arboretum with family, followed by a nice dinner at a local restaurant. I'm still not sure how we were able to find a ceremony and reception venue, photographer, officiant, and wedding dress within a week for one of the busiest wedding weekends of the year, but I am grateful. A week later we will celebrate in my hometown with friends and extended family.

With everything falling neatly into place, it feels like it was meant to be.

With nearly three weeks left until the big day, there are still dozens of small details to sort out. Instead of letting myself get overwhelmed with the planning, I'm trying to tackle one detail at a time. For the reception, I'm ambitiously planning to bake my own cupcakes to share.

While I baked hundreds of cupcakes for my sister's wedding reception a couple years ago—vanilla beanchocolate, coconut, and dulce de leche—it's a different feat to do it for my own. However, with my own dairy intolerance to manage, I find the dairy-free options from local bakeries lacking both in flavor and texture. So, into the kitchen I must go.

These chocolate espresso cupcakes are a flavor I wanted to give a spin before the big day. Chris and I adore the flavors of chocolate and coffee, so it feels natural to bring them together in this cake.

The cupcakes are infused with chocolate by adding espresso powder and strong coffee to the batter. The frosting is made by mixing strong coffee into semisweet chocolate. The cupcakes are not overly sweet, instead focusing on the deep chocolate and coffee flavors. I topped the finished cupcakes with toffee pieces, but any type of sprinkles will work here (or feel free to keep them plain). Enjoy alongside a cup of coffee or tall glass of milk!

One Year Ago: Grandma's Chocolate Cupcakes
Two Years Ago: Blueberry Crumble Bread & Chocolate Chunk Coconut Oil Cookies (my favorite!)
Three Years Ago: S'mores Tarts, Raspberry Rhubarb Sorbet, & Banana Peanut Butter Green Smoothie
Four Years Ago: Mixed Berry Quinoa Crumble, Cookies & Cream Ice Cream, & Lavender Vanilla Bean Cake
Five Years Ago: Rhubarb Ginger Bars, Berry Cheesecake Tarts, Frozen Strawberry Bars, & Coconut Sorbet
Six Years Ago: Cherry Almond Granola, Vegan Chocolate Chunk Cookies, Cherry Cream Cheese MuffinsBlueberry Breakfast Quinoa, & Vegan Brownies
Seven Years Ago: Bizcochitos, Blueberry Hand Pies, Harry Potter Treats, Cauldron Cakes, Butterbeer, & Butterbeer Cupcakes
Eight Years Ago: Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, Mocha Frappuccino, & Roasted Cherry Coconut Ice Cream

Chocolate Espresso Cupcakes

Yield 1 dozen

1 1/2 cups (190 grams) all-purpose flour
3/4 cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (60 grams) cocoa powder
2 teaspoons espresso powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/3 cup (78 mL) vegetable oil
1 cup (240 mL) strong coffee, divided
1/2 cup (120 mL) milk of choice
6 ounces (170 grams) semi-sweet chocolate, chopped finely

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a cupcake pan with baking cups.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, cocoa, espresso powder, baking soda, and salt. Add the vanilla extract, oil, 1/2 cup strong coffee, and milk. Using a spatula, mix the batter until smooth. 

Divide batter evenly between 12 baking cups (about 3/4 full). Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from baking pan and allow to cool to room temperature.

To make the chocolate espresso frosting, place chopped chocolate into a mixing bowl. Warm the remaining 1/2 cup strong coffee to boiling and pour over the chocolate. Allow it to set for 5 minutes then stir until smooth. Allow frosting to rest in the refrigerator, stirring occasionally, until it cools and thickens into a spreadable consistency (anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes).

Place frosting in a pastry bag (or plastic bag with the corner cut out) and pipe frosting onto the cooled cupcakes or spread frosting with an offset spatula. 

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Summer is moving quickly. It feels like only a moment has passed since school ended and summer vacation began. I've been working on a project of sorts, which has made free time feel scarce. While I'm going to keep it under wraps a little while longer, I'm excited to share the details with you soon!

In the quiet, everyday moments, I remember to enjoy these summer days. I savor time on the deck watching the vegetable and herb garden grow (perhaps too much , as they have quickly escaped the confines of their planters). I remind myself to turn off the background noise in my life (television and cell phone) to bring my thoughts back down to earth.

And, of course, I bake.

I made this pie a couple of weeks ago, and am finally getting a chance to share it with you. With strawberries and rhubarb in full season, and a holiday around the corner, the timing still feels right. This pie takes full advantage of late spring and early summer's offerings.

I prefer a pie with a bit more bite, so the recipe below results in a pie with a tarter flavor. However, if your tooth is a bit sweeter, add another 1/4 cup of sugar to bring the sweetness to your liking. With a scoop of vanilla ice cream on top, this pie will be sure to please.

This Strawberry Rhubarb Pie celebrates the seasonal produce of June. Two pints of strawberries and a handful of rhubarb stalks come together in this brightly flavored pastry. With cornstarch to thicken, the pie and its juices set up nicely. Serve with a large spoonful of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream to share.

One Year Ago: Chocolate Peanut Butter Pie
Two Years Ago: Dulce de Leche Cake
Three Years Ago: Strawberry Layer Cake & Blueberry Oat Crumble Muffins
Four Years Ago: Mango MargaritaChocolate Cacao Nib Banana Bread, & Chocolate Espresso Custard
Five Years Ago: Vanilla Chia Pudding, Rhubarb Vanilla Pound Cake, Boozy Margarita Lime Cake, & Double Chocolate Muffins
Six Years Ago: Toffee Chocolate Chip Cookies, Coconut Nutmeg Pudding, Lavender Lemonade, & Vegan Chocolate Cupcakes
Seven Years Ago: Whole Wheat Chocolate Chip Cookies, Garlic Parmesan Pull-Apart Bread, & Chocolate Almond Oat Bars
Eight Years Ago: Chocolate Coconut Granola, Bittersweet Chocolate Sherbet, & Tapioca Pudding

Strawberry Rhubarb Pie

Yields one 9-inch pie

1 double crust pie dough recipe
2 pints (24 ounces or 680 grams) strawberries, hulled and sliced
10 ounces (280 grams) fresh rhubarb, sliced into 1/4 inch pieces
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 tablespoons cornstarch
Egg wash (1 large egg + 1 tablespoon water, whisked), for brushing
Raw or demerara sugar, for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C).

In a large mixing bowl, gently stir together the sliced strawberries, rhubarb, sugars, vanilla, and cornstarch until evenly coated. Set aside.

Form the pie dough into a disk and divide it into a 60/40 ratio (if using a store-bought crust, do not worry about this step). On a lightly floured surface, roll out the larger section of dough into a 14-inch round circle. Carefully transfer it to a 9-inch pie pan and trim the excess pie dough to create a 1-inch overhang. Fill the pie crust with the strawberry-rhubarb mixture.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the smaller section of pie dough. Using a pizza cutter and a ruler, cut out wide strips of dough. Layer the strips over the top of the pie in a decorative fashion and trim so they are even with the edge of the pie pan. Using your fingers, pinch the bottom and top layers together in a pattern of your choice.

Using a pastry brush, brush the top of the pie crust with egg wash and sprinkle raw sugar over the pie. Bake the pie for 15 minutes at 425 degrees F (220 degrees C). Then, lower the oven temperature to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C). If necessary, cover the edges of the pie crust with aluminum foil to prevent further browning. Bake an additional 50-65 minutes, or until the lattice and crust are evenly browned. 

For perfect slices, cool for at least 3-5 hours (or overnight). Serve with whipped cream or ice cream, if desired.

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This post is sponsored through a partnership with The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

 

With warmer days approaching (and the end of the school year), my mind drifts towards the slower days of summer.  I've stuffed the sweaters into the back of the closet, bringing the t-shirts front and center.

A defining line between the cold and warm months, however, is my switch from hot coffee to cold brew. 

As a teacher, I drink my fair share of coffee. My favorite moments to enjoy a cup is relaxing after a long day at work, with my feet up on the couch, or on a slow-moving weekend morning.

Lately, I've been drinking Dunkin' Donuts Cold Brew. It's easy to prepare and has a smooth finish, with no acidity or bitter taste.

On Sunday nights, I prep the cold brew by placing two coffee pouches into a two-quart pitcher with four cups of water and leave it to steep in the refrigerator overnight. The next morning, I remove the pouches, add a few cups of water to dilute it to my taste, and it is ready to enjoy. Best of all, the pitcher lasts the rest of the week so the work is complete in two simple steps.

One of my favorite cold brew tricks is to freeze some of the cold brew into ice cubes after it has finished brewing. Then, when it's time to enjoy the coffee, I add a few cold brew cubes. The drink stays cold longer, and the coffee cubes prevent the drink from becoming watered down as the ice melts. 

I prefer my cold brew with creamer to add a hint of flavor and sweetness. After finding disappointment with dairy-free brands, I set out to create my own. As I often do for a dairy-free alternative, I reached for the can of full-fat coconut milk. While homemade coconut milk creamer works well in hot beverages, the fat separates to the top when it hits a cold beverage, rendering it undrinkable.

Almonds, however, do the job and do it well.

This homemade almond milk creamer holds together well in a cold drink and lends itself to customization. To give the creamer its creaminess, I follow a similar approach as I do with my recipe for homemade almond milk. The difference is that I add less water when blending so the almond milk is concentrated. 

With pure vanilla extract for flavor and maple syrup to sweeten to taste, this homemade almond milk creamer is complete. I adore this creamer because it mimics the coffee house experience with simple, wholesome ingredients.

The coffee creamer may appear to separate if it is left to rest, but a quick swirl of the glass will bring it back to a uniform appearance. Use as much or as little as you like in your next glass of cold brew.

   

This cold brew with homemade vanilla almond milk creamer works as a great afternoon pick-me-up. Brewed with Dunkin' Donuts Cold Brew Coffee Packs, the coffee has a smooth, rich finish. I prefer to enjoy it with homemade creamer flavored with vanilla and sweetened with maple syrup, but you can customize the drink to your taste. Enjoy!

One Year Ago: Strawberry Scones
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Hazelnut Rolls
Three Years Ago: Blueberry Oat Bars (GF)  & Peanut Butter Chocolate Chunk Cookies (GF)
Four Years Ago: Chocolate Blackberry Cupcakes
Five Years Ago:  Sunflower Seed Bread, Blackberry Fool, Lime Curd Tart, & Honey Chocolate Chunk Cookies
Six Years Ago: Tiramisu Cake, Peanut Butter Cornmeal Cookies, Honey Wheat Cake, & Chocolate Almond Ice Cream
Seven Years Ago:  Chocolate-Filled Buns, Malted Chocolate Chip Cookies, & Parmesan Poppy Seed Crackers

Cold Brew with Vanilla Almond Milk Creamer

Yields 6 servings

1 pouch Dunkin’ Donuts Cold Brew Coffee Packs
1 cup (120 grams) raw almonds
3 1/2 cups (830 mL) filtered water, divided
3-5 tablespoons maple syrup, to taste
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

The cold brew and almond milk creamer need to be started the evening before serving.

To prepare the cold brew coffee, follow the directions according to the package.

To prepare the almond milk creamer, place almonds in a container and cover with 2 cups filtered water. Seal container and allow to soak overnight, for at least 8 hours or up to 2 days.

Strain almonds and rinse with fresh water. (The almonds release phytic acid while soaking, which prevents the body from absorbing nutrients; rinsing the almonds removes this acid.) Place almonds and 1 1/2 cups filtered water in a blender. Blend on high for 2-3 minutes. Using a nut bag, layered cheesecloth, or fine mesh strainer, strain the almond milk to remove the pulp. If using the fine mesh strainer, run the milk through several times to eliminate pulp. The leftover pulp can be used in smoothies, muffins, or bread, or it can be dehydrated and used in the same manner as almond flour. Add maple syrup and vanilla extract to the almond milk.

Keep the almond milk creamer refrigerated. It should stay fresh for 5 to 7 days. The creamer may undergo separation in the refrigerator. Give the creamer a good shake and it will come back together quickly.

To prepare the cold brew coffee drink, place prepared cold brew in a glass with ice and add almond milk creamer to taste. For best results, freeze some of the cold brew into ice cubes in advance. This method keeps the cold brew chilled and prevents it from getting watered down as the ice melts.

©The J.M. Smucker Company © 2017. DD IP Holder LLC

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So this is thirty. Another year around the sun, another number added to my age.

When I was younger, my 30th birthday appeared so far away. The only experience with 30th birthdays I had to rely on was a Friends episode—"The One Where They All Turn Thirty." As the show flashbacked with vingettes of everyone's milestone birthday, I falsely assumed that as I aged I would have as many regrets and crying episodes as the characters.

But, at thirty years old today, I feel right. I feel none of the anxiety and distress as I did on my 25th birthday when I despaired that my childhood was over. There have been no tears, crises, or wishful holds onto my youth. Instead, I feel at peace with myself.

I'm finally at a place in my life where everything is coming together.

It was a big year for me. After an exhausting home search, I moved into my dream house last June with Chris, my boyfriend of eight years. Almost a year later, we've added our own personality to the space (though there are still many projects left to go). Even though I resisted it for many years, it feels good to put down roots.

I'm wrapping up my third year at my current high school as a science teacher. Although the change to pursue teaching instead of baking was an unexpected turn in my life, these students have created a place in my heart. I cannot imagine I will ever tire of watching them learn and grow as young adults during the time we have together.

And, because I don't have enough on my plate, I also thought it was a good idea to take 18 graduate credits this spring on top of working a full-time job and blogging. News flash: It was a terrible idea, but I survived. Who enjoys free time anyway? Not me, apparently.

This past year I also fell back in love with baking. I've had mixed feelings about baking and blogging the last few years, finding the responsibility exciting one day and like a chore the next. After realizing that I was holding myself to impractical standards (that were not right for me anyway), I loosened the expectations I had for myself.

In this reinstated freedom, I rekindled a new love for a longtime hobby. 

The idea for this coconut cake has been in my head for years. I held myself back, though, waiting until I felt an occasion was "special" enough to turn it from dream into reality. Eventually I realized that this line of thinking was ridiculous—why was I stopping myself from enjoying a cake infused with one of my favorite flavors?

This coconut cake features coconut in every component. The cake is made with coconut oil, coconut milk, and coconut extract for an added touch. Covered in coconut whipped cream and sprinkled with toasted coconut, the cake is truly a coconut lover's dream. I enjoy the cake with an extra dollop of whipped cream and a handful of berries on top every slice. I recommend you do the same.

Cheers to another year, my friends. May we enjoy growing older as much as we enjoy eating cake!

This Coconut Cake starts with a coconut infused batter. The cake itself falls on the denser side of the spectrum, but stays fresh and moist. Topped with coconut whipped cream and toasted coconut flakes, the cake is ready to be served. Enjoy with an extra dollop of whipped cream and a handful of fresh berries.

One Year Ago: Rhubarb Almond Cake
Two Years Ago: Chocolate Banana Baked French Toast
Three Years Ago: Perfect Pie Crust (Tutorial) & Berry Balsamic Pie
Four Years Ago: Roasted Strawberry Red Wine Popsicles & Berry Topped Angel Food Cake
Five Years Ago: Strawberry Charlotte, Fresh Strawberry Cake, Whole Wheat WafflesChocolate Hazelnut Banana Bread, & White Chocolate Espresso Cake
Six Years Ago: Rhubarb Ginger Muffins, Coconut Waffles, Multigrain Bread, & Vanilla Cupcakes
Seven Years Ago: Pina Colada Cupcakes, Strawberry Rhubarb Lemonade, & Roasted Cherry Brownies

Coconut Cake

Yields 12-16 servings

1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
3/4 cup (180 mL) coconut oil
4 large eggs, divided
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 teaspoon coconut extract
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) canned coconut milk
1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons (150 mL) milk
Coconut Whipped Cream, for topping
1 cup (60 grams) toasted coconut flakes, for topping

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heavily grease and flour a 10-cup tube or bundt pan. Set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, coconut oil, 4 egg yolks, vanilla extract, coconut extract, salt, and baking powder until uniform. Alternate adding the flour, coconut milk, and milk, stirring after each addition until the batter is smooth and uniform in appearance. 

In a separate mixing bowl, beat the 4 remaining egg whites until stiff peaks form. Gently fold the egg whites into the cake batter just until uniform.

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes before unmolding and cooling completely.

Immediately before serving, top the cake with a layer of coconut whipped cream and toasted coconut flakes. Serve with an additional side of whipped cream and berries.

Refrigerate leftovers. Allow the cake to come to room temperature before serving for best texture.

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The sun is shining, the snow is melting quickly, and it finally, finally, feels like spring. I began to despair this moment wouldn't arrive when a blizzard dumped nearly two feet of snow last weekend . After months spent indoors, the appearance of warmer weather feels like releasing a breath I didn't realize I was holding. 

Lemons remind me of spring. The bright color and pucker-worthy flavor are a seasonal wake-up call. With this Lemon Bundt Cake, I wanted to keep the qualities I love about lemons (with an added touch of sweetness).

Lemon makes an appearance three times in this lemon cake. For the first, the zest of two lemons is rubbed into the sugar until fragrant before mixing up the cake batter. The lemon-scented sugar imbues the cake with a delicate flavor.

To bring a stronger lemon flavor to the cake, I like to add lemon oil. Lemon oil is created by simmering lemon zest in oil until the oil is infused with flavor. It can usually be found in stores with a cake decorating section, or online. Lemon oil is more concentrated than lemon extract, which means that less is needed to bring a bold flavor.

However, when it comes to lemon, I believe more is more so I prefer to add a good teaspoon of lemon oil (though you can certaintly add less to suit your own preferences). Though lemon oil is not a necessary ingredient, it does reinforce the lemon flavor in the cake.

Lastly, but certainly not least, once the baked cake is unmolded (and still warm), it is brushed with a lemon glaze. The glaze is made by dissolving sugar into the juice of two lemons. I prefer a tart, punchy glaze, but you could add up to a 1/4 cup more sugar to sweeten it.

The glaze serves two purposes for the cake and should not be skipped. The first purpose is to soak the exterior with intense, vibrant flavor. Use your bundt pan that provides the greatest exterior surface area so the glaze can reach a more substantial portion of the cake. Secondly, the glaze seals the cake, which prevents it from drying out so it can stay fresh longer.

 This lemon-infused cake is best served with the ones you love on a bright, sunny day.

This Lemon Bundt Cake heavily features the flavor of its namesake. The batter is infused with both lemon zest and lemon oil to give it a bright lemon flavor. Once baked, the cake is brushed with a lemon glaze on the outer edges to give the cake additional flavor and to seal in the cake's moisture. Serve plain or with a spoonful of coconut whipped cream.

One Year Ago: Basic Sandwich Bread 
Two Years Ago: Hazelnut Cherry Granola
Three Years Ago: Cinnamon Sugar Swirl Loaf 
Four Years Ago: Honey Almond Quinoa Granola & Coconut Tapioca Pudding
Five Years Ago:  Almond Joy Candy Bars, Mango Lassi, PB & J Muffins, & Almond Butter Chocolate Chip Cookies (GF)
Six Years Ago: Irene's Orange Rolls, S'mores Cupcakes, Mai Tai, Homemade Mascarpone, & Ladyfingers
Seven Years Ago: Roasted Pineapple, Lemon Thins, & Vanilla Pear Muffins

Lemon Bundt Cake

Yields 12-16 servings

Lemon Cake
1 1/2 cups (300 grams) granulated sugar
Zest of 2 lemons
3/4 cup (180 mL) vegetable oil
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon oil (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 1/2 cups (300 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (250 mL) milk

Lemon Glaze
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
Juice of 2 lemons

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Heavily grease and flour a 10-cup Bundt pan. Set aside.

For the lemon cake, place the granulated sugar and lemon zest in a large mixing bowl. Rub the sugar and zest together until fragrant. Whisk in the vegetable oil, eggs, vanilla, lemon oil, salt, and baking powder. Alternate adding the flour and milk, stirring after each addition, until the batter is smooth and uniform in appearance. 

Pour batter into the prepared baking pan and bake for 45-55 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 15 minutes before unmolding.

While the cake is baking, prepare the glaze by heating the granulated sugar and lemon juice in a small saucepan until the sugar dissolves. Set aside. 

Place the cake on a cooling rack and brush the glaze over the cake, giving time for the glaze to absorb between layers. Allow the cake to cool completely and the glaze to set before cutting and serving.

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As one of my intentions this year, I have been trying to live in the moment. I've been guilty of using background noise to distract myself from normal, day-to-day moments—the television blares in the background, podcasts run on loop, and my cell phone is always within easy reach. As expected, some days are better than others, but my intention is to engage in more conversation instead of passive entertainment, and find joy in the quiet that comes with solitude.

When my boyfriend Chris and I were headed out to the rustic winter cabin we rented last weekend, we lost cell reception an hour before we reached our destination. Although we were a little worried about the isolation, we quickly found that a weekend unplugged was exactly what we needed.

In this case, "getting away from it all" actually meant leaving our connection to the rest of the world behind. 

With spring break approaching, I spent time in the kitchen baking in preparation for another weekend away. This time we are meeting up with family in Montana to enjoy a couple days on the ski slopes, breathing fresh mountain air.

While I usually sneak a batch of granola along on the plane, I sent this recipe for Chocolate Raspberry Muffins to my mother instead. The tart raspberries contrast beautifully against the deep chocolate flavor, making them ideal for a morning snack before heading out into the cold. 

The muffins can be frozen easily (in this case, for travel) and thawed at room temperature the evening before serving. As we enjoy each other's company, these muffins will make our time together a little sweeter.

These Chocolate Raspberry Muffins make an ordinary morning a little more extraordinary. A chocolate muffin batter is made healthier by reducing the sugar and introducing whole wheat flour. With a handful of chocolate chips and fresh raspberries, the muffins are complete. To give the muffins a special appearance, reserve some fresh raspberries to press into the top of the batter before baking—the berries will retain their vibrant color, giving the muffins a unique appearance.

One Year Ago: Blueberry Banana Baked Oatmeal
Two Years Ago: Bananas Foster Sauce
Three Years Ago: Banana Chocolate Hazelnut Cupcakes & Cranberry Almond Granola
Four Years Ago: Coconut Macaroons 
Five Years Ago:  Chocolate Ginger Biscotti, Banana Cinnamon Pancakes, Raspberry Lemon Cupcakes, & Pita Bread
Six Years Ago: Blackberry Goat Cheese Tart, Arborio Rice Pudding, Chocolate Whoopie Pies, & Hot Cross Buns
Seven Years Ago: Orange Scones, Honey Rolls, Strawberry Pancakes, Chocolate Nests, & Easter Chick Cupcakes

Chocolate Raspberry Muffins

Yields 1 dozen muffins

3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder (optional)
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (43 grams) cocoa powder
3/4 cup (170 mL) milk
1/2 cup (85 grams) semi-sweet chocolate chips
6 ounces (170 grams) fresh raspberries
Raw or demerara sugar, for topping (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Line a muffin tin with baking cups.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla until uniform. Stir in the espresso powder, baking powder, baking soda, salt, flours, cocoa powder, and milk until smooth. Stir in the chocolate chips and raspberries.

Divide batter evenly between the baking cups and sprinkle tops with raw sugar, if desired. Bake for 18-22 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Spring may be around the corner, and the temperatures are rising, but snow still covers the ground. To embrace the winter that remains, my boyfriend, Chris, and I are headed up north for the weekend to give dog sledding a try. With his love for dogs and my love for new experiences, it feels like the ideal way to get out of the house after a long, cooped up winter. 

We rented a rustic log cabin in the woods, with hopes to snowshoe along snowy tree-lined paths, relax in the sauna after the sun has set, and cuddle near a log fire before bed. The "rustic" nature of the cabin is real—with an outhouse and wood stove for heat, it will be an adventure just to keep ourselves warm in freezing temperatures. Even though there are hotels nearby, I campaigned for the cabin because we will be more likely to remember this experience (for better or for worse) years from now.

Isn't that what life is about—making memories?

With the weekend drawing near, I spent time in the kitchen baking up dishes to pack. When I was testing out the recipe for this carrot breakfast loaf, I really enjoyed how the natural sweetness of the carrot emerges. Along with the addition of raisins, coconut flakes, and walnuts, the hearty bread plays off the flavors of a carrot cake.

With a handful of granola bars and a loaf of this carrot bread, I hope to keep well fed for breakfast, with enough energy for a long day of mushing (and dog petting).

This Carrot Breakfast Loaf is a play off of the traditional carrot cake. The sweetness of the carrot complements the warm spices of cinnamon and nutmeg to create this spiced bread. Coconut flakes, raisins, and chopped walnuts are added to give the loaf additional flavor and texture. Serve each slice with a thick layer of butter and enjoy. 

One Year Ago: Oatmeal Fudge Bars
Two Years Ago: Traditional Challah
Three Years Ago: Blackberry Coconut Scones
Four Years Ago: Peanut Butter Chocolate Frosted Cake & Orange Coconut Pull-Apart Bread 
Five Years Ago:  Chocolate Oatmeal Muffins, Chocolate Oatmeal Raisin Cookies, & Coconut Whipped Cream
Six Years Ago: Chocolate Caramel Crispy Bars, Tropical Banana Bread, Strawberry Balsamic Jam, & Strawberry Oat Bars
Seven Years Ago: Vanilla Almond Cupcakes, Banana Pudding, Devil's Food Cake, & Flourless Peanut Butter Cookies

Carrot Breakfast Loaf

Yields 9 x 5-inch loaf

3/4 cup (150 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup (120 mL) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup (120 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (120 grams) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup (125 mL) milk
1 1/2 cups (150 grams) peeled, shredded carrots
1/3 cup (53 grams) raisins
1/4 cup (30 grams) coconut flakes
1/2 cup (60 grams) chopped walnuts, plus extra for topping
1 tablespoon demerara or raw sugar, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 9 x 5-inch loaf pan and set aside.

In a large mixing bowl, beat together the brown sugar, vegetable oil, eggs, and vanilla until uniform. Stir in the spices, baking powder, baking soda, salt, flours, and milk until smooth. Stir in the carrots, raisins, coconut flakes, and chopped walnuts.

Pour batter into prepared loaf pan and level. Sprinkle the top with demerara sugar and additional chopped walnuts, if desired. Bake for 45-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

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Pears and chocolate may be an unfamiliar pairing, but it is one worth exploring. The delicate sweetness of the pear balances the richness of the chocolate, creating one of my favorite combinations. While pears and chocolate are no stranger to this blog (check out these recipes for pear & chocolate scones and brown butter pear & chocolate muffins), it has been awhile since I've played around with these flavors.

For this cake, I mixed ripe pears into the cake and layered them on the top for both aesthetics and for my personal preference (I will openly fight for the pieces with the most pear). The chocolate cake itself is light and moist. To bring out a deeper chocolate flavor, I also tossed chopped chocolate into the batter.

This cake lasted only a brief time in my house, and I hope you'll find the same is true for you.

With this recipe (and many that involve pears), canned pears can be substituted for their fresh counterparts as a quick and easy alternative. If you don't have ripe pears on hand, dice the canned pears and fold them into the cake batter instead of layering on top—the flavors will taste the same. 

Chocolate Pear Cake is a sweet snacking cake. Diced pears and chopped chocolate are folded into a chocolate cake batter. Before baking, the top is covered with pear slices and sprinkled with more chopped chocolate and raw sugar to add additional sweetness and texture. Serve the cake warm or chilled with a scoop of ice cream or a dreamy spoonful of whipped cream.

Two Years Ago: Quick Puff Pastry (Tutorial) 
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Orange Cake
Four Years Ago: Almond Cake 
Five Years Ago:  Blueberry Lemon Pancakes, Lavender Lemon Shortbread, & Grapefruit Margaritas
Six Years Ago: Basic Caramel Sauce, Rum  Raisin Ice Cream, Butternut Squash & Spinach Tart, & Rosemary Crackers
Seven Years Ago: Lemon Chocolate Tart, Coconut Cream Cupcakes, Italian Popcorn, & PB Chocolate Chip Cookies

Chocolate Pear Cake

Yields 9-inch cake

2 large ripe pears*
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
1/3 cup (78 ml) vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups (180 grams) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons cocoa powder
1/2 cup (120 ml) milk of choice
4 ounces (113 grams) semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped
1 tablespoon raw or demerara sugar, optional
Chocolate shavings, optional

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease a 9-inch spring-form cake pan. Set aside.

To prepare the pears, peel them, if desired. Cut in half and remove the core. Dice one pear into small cubes. Quarter the other pear lengthwise and thinly slice. Set aside.

In a mixing bowl, whisk together the granulated sugar, vegetable oil, and eggs for several minutes, or until lighter in color. Whisk in the baking powder, salt, and vanilla extract. Using a spatula, stir in the flour, cocoa powder, and milk. Mix until the batter is smooth and uniform. Fold in the cubed pear and chopped chocolate.

Pour batter into the prepared baking dish. Top batter with folded pear quarters and chocolate shavings. Sprinkle with raw sugar. Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Run a knife around the edges and remove outer springform. Allow to cool before serving.

* Canned pears can be substituted in a pinch. Dice all the pears and fold them into the batter instead of layering over the top.

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Every four years, I excitedly await the winter Olympics, talking about it ad infinitum in the weeks prior. As a former figure skater during my high school years, it is my chance to watch figure skating's best compete on the world's stage. The beautiful performances, the nervous energy, and the drama bring me an enduring joy.

In fact, when my boyfriend Chris and I started dating before the winter Olympics eight years ago, I warned him that this was my sport, and if he'd want to see me during the next two weeks he would need to brush up on his figure skating knowledge. To my astonishment, he dutifully researched the competitors, learned the scoring, and watched former performances so he could cheer alongside me in appreciation.

When he started one-upping me with knoweldge on men's singles, I knew that he was a keeper.

As a snub to February's variety of winter monotony, I dusted off my skates and took them down to the nearby ice rink. With the empty rink laid out in front of me, I imagined myself as talented as Michelle Kwan or Tara Lipinski, as I had many times years before. On shaky ankles, I then attempted a few spins and jumps that would have embarrassed my former coach.

I may have lost most of my training over the years, but the fresh air and the feel of the ice beneath my feet felt invigorating after spending so many weeks indoors.

Though Minnesota may still be covered in snow, my food preferences are evolving away from heavy comfort foods towards brighter, fresher flavors. Blending up fruit smoothies is a quick way to reenergize standard breakfasts and mid-day snacks. To bring these bright flavors to you, I have partnered with Dole Sunshine to #SharetheSunshine by sharing this pineapple coconut smoothie bowl.

Topped with toasted coconut, banana slices, and frozen pineapple, the simple smoothie can be elevated into something special.

Frozen fruit is the key to a quick smoothie with bright, vibrant flavor. I keep a steady supply of frozen berries, pineapple, and bananas in my freezer for this purpose. This recipe uses a combination of frozen pineapple and frozen bananas to thicken the smoothie (but ice can also be used in a pinch). The addition of full-fat coconut milk lends a creamy texture and rich flavor.

While the smoothie could be poured into a glass, I prefer to enjoy this one in a bowl. The smoothie is dense enough to support a range of toppings, which takes it from a grab-and-go drink into a complete breakfast.

This Pineapple Coconut Smoothie Bowl celebrates the flavors of a piña colada in a fresh form. Frozen pineapple, banana, and coconut milk are blended together to form a thick smoothie base. Toppings like banana slices, frozen pineapple, toasted coconut, and chia seeds are layered over the top to bring additional flavor and texture. Serve for breakfast or enjoy as an afternoon snack. 

One Year Ago: Sprouted Wheat Vanilla Chai Bars
Two Years Ago: Coffee Eclairs 
Three Years Ago: Rosemary Soda Bread 
Four Years Ago: Grapefruit Rum Cocktails
Five Years Ago:  Coconut Raisin Granola, Hot Cocoa Popsicles, Chocolate Pudding, & Black Tea Cake with Honey Buttercream
Six Years Ago: Cappuccino Pancakes, Hot Cocoa Cookies, Rosemary Focaccia, Swedish Visiting Cake, & Cinnamon Sugar Muffin
Seven Years Ago: Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream, Cinnamon Rolls, Brown Butter Crispy Rice Bars, & Meyer Lemon Curd

Pineapple Coconut Smoothie Bowl

Yields 2 servings

Smoothie
2 ripe frozen bananas
2 cups (280 grams) Dole Frozen Tropical Gold® Pineapple Chunks
3/4 cup (180 mL) full-fat coconut milk
3/4 cup (180 mL) milk
Ice, optional

Toppings (optional)
Banana slices
Dole Frozen Tropical Gold® Pineapple Chunks
Toasted coconut flakes
Chia seeds
Granola

Place all smoothie ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth, scraping down the sides as needed. Divide servings equally between two glasses or two bowls. For smoothie bowls, top with desired toppings, and serve immediately.

This post is sponsored through a partnership with Dole Sunshine. As always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I am incredibly excited to be working with Dole Sunshine because of the excellent quality of their frozen & preserved fruits. Thank you for supporting Pastry Affair & my wonderful sponsors!

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During late fall and winter, pears are in season. The delicate sweetness and buttery flesh of a ripe pear makes this fruit one of the fruits I look forward to most throughout the year. Since it is a struggle for me to catch pears at their peak ripeness—they are either unripe and too hard or overripe and too soft—I choose to eliminate the unpredictability by poaching the pears on the stove or roasting them in the oven. When cooked through, pears still retain all the qualities I adore in their fresh counterparts. 

While summer calls for cool and refreshing pear sorbets, winter calls for a warmer approach. This crumble unites tender pear with the warm spices of cinnamon and ginger. An aromatic hint of fresh thyme blended into the oatmeal crumble lends an unexpected, but welcome brightness. To complete the dish, a couple spoonfuls of brandy are stirred into the pear filling. The combined juices stew down in their juices at the bottom of the pan while the topping browns.

The complex flavor profile of the crumble takes familiar flavors and combines them in such a way that they feel like a new (and delicious) experience. 

This Pear Ginger Thyme Crumble is a fruit-based dessert that takes advantage of winter fruit and spices. Pears, stewed down in their juices with vanilla and brandy, are topped with a crisp crumble topping. The oatmeal topping is sweetened with brown sugar and spiced with cinnamon, ginger, and fresh thyme. Serve the crumble hot or cold with a scoop of ice cream or spoonful of whipped cream.

Two Years Ago: Bruleed Lemon Tart & Chocolate Almond Cake (GF)
Three Years Ago: Chocolate Raspberry Tarts
FourYears Ago: Honey Oat Bread, Banana Cacao Buckwheat Muffins, & Chocolate Almond Biscotti
Five Years Ago:  Bruleed Grapefruit, Bacon & Chive Beer Bread, Pomegranate Panna Cotta, & Toasted Almond Cookies
Six Years Ago: Cheddar Dill Biscuits, S'mores Brownies, Beer Bread, Roasted Pepper Feta Scones, & Chocolate Rum Cake (GF)
Seven Years Ago: Yellow Cake, Vanilla Rum French Toast, Banana Bread Oatmeal, & Chocolate Blueberry Ice Cream

Pear Ginger Thyme Crumble

Yields 6-8 servings

Pear Filling 
5-6 large (about 3 pounds/1.4 kilograms) Bosc or Bartlett pears, peeled and diced
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 cup (50 grams) granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon brandy, optional

Ginger Thyme Crumble
1/4 cup (57 grams) coconut oil, liquid state
1/4 cup (50 grams) brown sugar, packed
1/3 cup (40 grams) all-purpose flour
2/3 cup (60 grams) old-fashioned oats
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon fresh thyme, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).

For the pear filling, coat the peeled and diced pears with the lemon juice in a large bowl. Add the granulated sugar, vanilla, cornstarch, and brandy, stirring until uniform. Spread evenly into a cast iron pan or a greased 9-inch pie pan. 

For the crumble, stir together the coconut oil and brown sugar, mixing until it forms a uniform paste. Stir in the flour, oats, spices, and salt until uniform. Break the crumble topping into small pieces and sprinkle crumble topping over the top of the pears.

Bake for 40-50 minutes, or until the pears are bubbling and the crumble topping is browned. If the topping browns before the pears have finished cooking, cover the pan with aluminum foil to prevent further browning and continue cooking.

Serve warm or cold, with a side of whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.

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